Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Real Talk With Rachel: Cleaning Out Old Closets

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

I have between dating a wonderful man for the last eight months and we are both very happy and spend a lot of time together. We live separately but he spends most of his time at my place. He has welcomed me into his home any time I wish but I feel quite uncomfortable spending time at his place.

He lost his wife to cancer over two years ago. He seemed to have loved her very much. He adores me and tries in every way to make me happy. I have been very understanding about his grief and have been very supportive.

However, still today he seems not to come to any closure with his passed wife, and has left most of her things and clothes in his house. One day, when I asked to borrow a long sleeve t-shirt from him, he offered me one from his wife's closet. It made me very uncomfortable as I have no connection with her and probably would have never have met and surely not dated him if it had not been for her passing and his coming out to start a new life.

When I told him how I felt, he appreciated my honesty and thanked me, as he had not realized my uneasiness.

I have cautiously mentioned a few times that other people may benefit from the donation of her clothes and that he could perhaps contain all her memorabilia (letters, photos, odd things) in a box he could access from time to time, rather than having them scattered around the house. He seems to agree but nothing has changed.

To add to this, the other day he told me that his wife's sisters will be coming in town and that I would have a great time with them. Again, I cautiously said that it may be a little uncomfortable, but he interpreted that as for his sisters-in-law rather than myself and reassured me that they would like me and that we would have a great time together. He did not seem to realize that I was the one to be uncomfortable about meeting them, but I let it go and did not say anything further in that regard.

Am I overreacting or are my feelings justified? How can I help him come to some closure and move on? Should I just wait and let him sort this out as long as it takes? If so, for how long?

Helping My Love to Move On

Dear Helping My Love to Move On,

Love has the same half-life as radioactive material. Though it decreases over time, it never entirely goes away. Especially for the man in your life, who didn’t choose to separate from his wife, it is going to take time until he’s able to do things like give away her clothes or take her picture off his mantle. I’ve always believed that the idea of closure is better suited for cinema than the real world, anyway. Our lives are far too messy for such clean resolutions.

To a large degree, I think you’re handling the inherent awkwardness that comes along with your situation fantastically. You are honest with the man you’re seeing, particularly in the instance of not wanting to wear his late wife’s shirt. While it may be just a shirt, I can understand why you’d feel uncomfortable slipping into her wardrobe. You’re not trying to replace her.

He’s handling the situation well, too. When you tell him how you feel, he seems to be really listening to what you say and taking it into account as your relationship grows. Make sure you’re giving him due credit for this.

I’ve got to ask: Why do you care so much about him keeping his wife’s things around? We both know it’s not really about about stocking up the Salvation Army. Does it make you feel like, by keeping his wife’s closet intact, he is unable to fully commit himself to you? Unlike closet space, love is not a zero-sum game. Try not to take personally the fact that he holds onto her things.

More importantly, don’t be the person pushing him to get rid of his wife’s things. You don’t want to be, or appear to be, in competition with her, or be the one pushing him to move on. If he agrees that he needs to clear out his house, then his other friends and family probably think so, too. Let one of them be the person who nags him on this issue.

I interpreted your significant other including you in activities with his sisters-in-law differently than you did. First of all, his continued relationship with these sisters-in-law shows his dedication to family and to cultivating meaningful friendships. These women are part of his family, and the death of his wife hasn’t changed that. However, it says a lot that he wants to include you and introduce you to them, Think of them as his, instead of her, family and enjoy your time with them!



Dear Rachel,

I have a friend who constantly wants to take credit for things. She always needs to say, “Oh! I found that first!” or “I made that joke!” It gets really annoying. Maybe she found a video on YouTube, but if over a million people watched it, there’s a slight chance that other people found it too.

How do I let her know that her constant need for credit is driving me crazy?

I Knew It First

Dear I Knew It First,

It seems clear to me that your friend’s constant jockeying for credit is an indication of her insecurity. Most of us are insecure about one thing or another. Despite this, we are particularly unforgiving when we see that in others. My theory: watching other people act insecure reminds us of our own self-doubts.

Your friend’s habit sounds annoying for sure. The best way to deal with it is to ignore it. (I am curious, actually, how you're responding when does it.) Instead of retorting to let her know that you saw a particular YouTube video first, or have already heard the quip she made, stay grounded. Think about why you’d ever want to pick this fight in the first place.



Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or at advice @

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